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Covid-19: Remaining restrictions to be lifted in NI today

All of Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 restrictions are being replaced by guidance from today (Tuesday, February 15).

However, Health Minister Robin Swann - who himself tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday - has warned the public “not to jump the gun” as the pandemic is not over.

He said yesterday’s announcement follows consideration of legal advice from the Attorney General and consultation with all Ministerial colleagues.

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“It moves our response against Covid into a new phase.

A customer wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure against spreading Covid-19. Picture: Getty

“With the reduced threat from the Omicron variant, we can move away from an emergency and legalistic framework to a new approach where making safer choices is embedded in our daily lives,” said Mr Swann.

“That means all of us continuing to do our best to cut down risks of infection and transmission. It means looking after each other by following the public health guidance.

“It must always be remembered that taking unnecessary risks with Covid may affect people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.”

“So please do not jump the gun and start behaving as if the pandemic is over. That is not the case.

“While Omicron is less severe than previous strains of the virus, community transmission remains very high and hospital pressures significant. The most vulnerable as a result of underlying disease remain susceptible to severe illness and it is important that we all do what we can to protect them.”

Mr Swann continued: “Coronavirus is likely to stay with us in some form for some time. We cannot maintain emergency restrictions indefinitely. A large part of what we currently do to protect ourselves is already covered by guidance rather than regulations.

“This includes self-isolating when infected and taking lateral flow tests before meeting up with others. The guidance will continue to emphasise all the steps that we should keep taking to protect each other.

“I will, of course, keep the situation on regulations under ongoing and detailed review. We cannot rule out a new variant emerging down the line with new interventions being required. I very much hope that will not be the case.”

The Health Minister made yesterday’s announcement having received the latest public health assessment from the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser.

Minister Swann added: “The expectation from the public health assessments is that no significant rise in ICU occupancy is expected.

“While many people will very much welcome my decision on regulations, I know there will be concerns. Community transmission is still very high and our hospitals remain under severe pressure.

“A sustained effort to follow the public health guidance will help reduce infection numbers and support our health service.”

There are no plans at this stage for changes to the current arrangements for testing, contact tracing and isolation in Northern Ireland.

The importance of wearing face coverings in health and social care settings, on public transport and in enclosed indoor settings will continue to be strongly emphasised.

While Covid status certification will no longer be legally required in any settings, hospitality and entertainment venues will still be encouraged to use it. Vaccine certification will continue to be available to the public – including for those who need it for travel abroad to satisfy entry requirements of countries they are visiting.

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Health Minister Robin Swann tests positive for Covid-19